We run a somewhat benevolent dictatorship in our house. Melani and I decide what is going to happen, and we do it without much explanation or justification to the kids. It is not our role to reach a consensus on a daily basis or explain our rationale for why we are doing something. Our experience is that doing so just leads the kids into
believing that everything is negotiable- which, of course, it is not. But we do recognize that it is important that they learn how to make decisions – a very painful proposition when they suffer from such underdeveloped pre- frontal cortices at their ages! So when there are decisions we want them to make – we try to give them some guidance and a framework to use. Ironically we use a cultural reference that really has no significance to them – The Price is Right! Now I admit – I have taken some creative license with this! I have explained to them that at the end of the show the two contestants would get to bid on two separate showcases – and there always seemed to be one showcase that was much, MUCH better than the other! For example- one showcase would feature a new car , and the other would feature an exciting subscription to the Jelly of the Month club.
Now to make things simple for their budding pre-frontal cortices – the area of the brain that is responsible for making decisions based on consequences in the future (which, by the way, doesn’t truly develop fully until we in the 20s) I have designated Showcase A as always being the superior showcase – or decision in our household. In contrast, Showcase B is always the bad showcase or decision. B for bad – see what I did there?
When we ask them to make decisions – we genuinely give them two choices which they are free to choose from: Showcase A and Showcase B (nothing in-between). So for example, if one of kids didn’t want to finish their dinner on a particular evening – I would say fine, in my most amiable and Andy Griffith like manner – that it was their prerogative to decide whether or not to eat their dinner. However, I would explain in detail what Showcase A would be and contrast that with Showcase B. No surprises here – Showcase A always proves to be vastly superior and more attractive to them. Showcase A, I explain – they eat their dinner, get dessert, wrestle with Dad and get a little TV time. Showcase B – they don’t eat their dinner, no dessert, no wrestling, and no TV time. Sometimes I would even add in something like they would also have to take the compost out or clean up the toy creep in the dining room. (Toy creep – definition – the natural phenomena in which toys – by their apparent own volition migrate from the play room into other areas of the house – in which they should not be!) The point is, I would truly allow them to make their own choice – but I would obviously be steering them to the one we felt was the right decision. Since I made one so good and the other so ridiculously bad (and was willing to keep piling on the bad until they realized such) it will come as a shocker to no one that they pretty much always, eventually, come around to our way of thinking.
Because we have been quite consistent in this approach over time, the children have essentially become self policing on some of these things like refusing to eat dinner. When one says they will not eat something – another will chime in and say “well you know then that you will get Showcase B Dominick – and Showcase B means no dessert…” Ahhh… Those moments of Parenting Autopilot that crave and absolutely savor….
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